Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exiled couple in legal limbo after US ruling

Exiled couple in legal limbo after US ruling

Exiled couple in legal limbo after US ruling

An US federal appeals court has overturned an earlier ruling, confirming a Cambodian couple’s eligibility for political asylum in the United States despite the husband’s previous work at a Cambodian prison where inmates – mostly Khmer Rouge soldiers – were allegedly mistreated.

The Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a ruling it made on the case last August, saying that former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) activist Pauline Im and his wife, Ngin Sethy, faced political persecution if they returned to Cambodia. An attempt on their lives was made in 2000.

The court also noted that Im’s brief employment as a guard at a Vietnamese-run prison during the early 1980s did not involve direct participation in the mistreatment of prisoners, an act which could have seen him deported.

“Im never beat any prisoner in his time as a prison guard. He did not decide who was imprisoned in the jail and he had no say in which prisoners were interrogated,” the court ruled in August. “Im was charged with unlocking the doors to prisoners’ cells based on instructions from superiors,” added.

The court on April 11 withdrew the August ruling in light of a similar asylum case involving a former prison guard from Eritrea, Daniel Negusie, who is alleged to have been directly involved in the abuse of prisoners.

The US Supreme Court is not expected hand down its verdict on Negusie’s case until June 2009, casting the Cambodian couple into temporary legal limbo.

The couple’s lawyer, Emmanuel Enyinwa criticized the court’s decision this month, saying the two cases were not comparable because Im, unlike Negusie, was unarmed and played no role in the interrogation or mistreatment of prisoners.

After working as a prison guard following the 1979 Vietnamese invasion that ousted the Khmer Rouge, Im briefly joined the anti-Vietnamese resistance and was jailed in 1983 for anti-government activities.

Following the Paris Peace Accords, he joined the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and ran as a candidate in the 1993 parliamentary elections.

After serving in the Ministry of Rural Development and the National Assembly, Im joined the opposition SRP in 2000.

The couple, who now live in Fresno, California, fled Cambodia after unknown assailants – thought by Im to be government agents – fired on their Phnom Penh home in July 2000.


  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman

  • Cambodian women diving deep, going far

    There is a saying in Khmer that “women cannot dive deep or go far”. The meaning is that women should not stray too far from their traditional gender roles. But when Menno de Block, an entrepreneur from the Netherlands, took a good look around his